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China: Around The Nation

US high school Chinese test stumps internet users in China

New York exam paper was circulated on social media on the mainland and many admit they struggled to answer the questions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 3:48pm

A high school in New York has produced an exam paper for its pupils learning Chinese which features questions that have daunted internet users in China and even a college professor.

The final exam for pupils at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School’s Foreign Language Department comprises four sections, according to a photograph of the test paper shared on Chinese social media.

The first two focus on words and idioms not commonly used in conversational Chinese.

In one part pupils were asked to give synonyms for 10 words, but they are more often used in ancient Chinese writing than in everyday speech.

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Many Chinese social media users admitted they struggled to read even the first word – jiu ju – which means to live in a rented apartment. Many didn’t even know what the word meant, let alone come up with a synonym for it.

“At first, I thought the question was to write down the pinyin, but after reading it I realised I didn’t even know how to read the word,” one internet user wrote on social media.

Another question in the first section requires a synonym for the word he, meaning to bite, which was also mainly used in ancient writing.

Pupils were also asked to give antonyms for 10 words and idioms in the test and were required to write a 300-word essay.

Topics ranged from “The Inspiration of Lotus”, a reference to the Song dynasty (960-1279) philosopher Zhou Dunyi’s essay Ode to the Lotus Flower, to Reflections on “Fat Rat”, referring to a piece of writing by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) scholar Pu Songling.

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“I felt uneasy while trying the test. Now I wonder if I might have learned fake Chinese,” one user wrote on social media.

Another agreed: “I might well be a fake Chinese!”

Wang Hongtu, a professor of Chinese language at Shanghai’s Fudan University, told the news website Thepaper.cn that the questions were “very difficult”.

The first question alone got him thinking for a while, he said.

Wang said most Chinese people knew 5,000 to 6,000 words, but some words used in the test were very uncommon.